Monday, August 22, 2011

Christian Ponder Looks Overmatched

When the Minnesota Vikings selected Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick, fans were generally upset, myself included. Ponder had received very little buzz leading up to the draft, and although almost every 'expert' had him as a late first or early second round draft pick, we as fans reacted as if the Vikings had just drafted a seventh round QB in the first round. I remember updating my Facebook status to simply "I'm crying" when the Vikings announced the pick, and I used Twitter to complain about the state I was born in. Obviously, I wasn't very happy with the selection.

However, because I'm a huge homer at heart (even if I routinely criticize my favorite teams) within a day I had convinced myself that Ponder could be the answer at quarterback for this franchise. His completion percentage at Florida State was impressive, nearly 62%, but even that number is inflated by short passes. The Vikings were clearly interested in Ponder because they liked his accuracy in FSU's system, and they were planning on running a similar West Coast* style to the one he ran at FSU. As of this writing, that still appears to be the plan.

*I hate the West Coast offense. Hate it. It's boring as hell to watch, it's almost impossible for teams to score quickly (making two minute drills the most boring combination of four and five yard passes imaginable until time runs out) and despite every coach ever claiming they can spread the field with this type of offense, I've never seen it. I'm sure the 49ers in the 80's and 90's looked great running it... but COME ON. That's not because of the system, that's because they had Joe Montana and Steve Young throwing the football to Jerry Frickin Rice. Two of the best quarterbacks of all-time throwing to the greatest receiver of all-time. I could have designed the passing plays for that offense and looked like a genius. I hate this offense almost as much as I hate the triangle offense in the NBA.

Through two preseason games, Ponder has looked like a rookie. Despite being touted as "one of the two most pro ready QBs" by most experts (along with Andy Dalton) Ponder has really only looked above average when scrambling with the ball. His arm strength has looked even worse than advertised, and his 6 for 12 performance against the Seahawks looked and felt much worse than that. The offense was out of sync, and Ponder's lack of arm strength was apparent on several blitzes from Seattle defenders.

Look, I realize it's only been TWO games, and not even two real games, but two preseason games in which Ponder is trying to learn the offense and getting limited snaps. Judging a rookie QB by his first two preseason games would be foolish. However, when a player's weaknesses are harped on during the draft because most people felt like a team reached for said player, it becomes worrisome. It's even more worrisome when THOSE EXACT WEAKNESSES are noticeable by fans sitting at home watching the game on TV. Ponder bounced a few throws to receivers who weren't more than six or seven yards down field.

Ponder did look good when on the move, scrambling out of pressure a few times and making a few decent plays with his feet. Unfortunately, the Vikings aren't planning on running an option run offense, so Ponder's legs are far less important than his arm. As fans, we got to see Tarvaris Jackson do some great things with his feet for five years. But we also saw Jackson routinely make mistakes in the passing game that would halt a drive. Jackson was a weekly reminder that quarterbacks need to be able to throw the football first; running is only an added bonus if the guy has a good arm.

Ponder's arm looks even weaker than advertised. There was a throw he tried to make against Seattle on a free play after a defender jumped offsides in which a good quarterback would have either thrown a bullet, back-shoulder pass or a lob to the corner of the end zone, to allow his receiver to make a play. Ponder threw a lob that looked like a back shoulder pass, and the ball was so poorly under thrown that the Seattle defender who was beat by two steps had it hit him in the middle of the back. It was one of the worst fade routes I've seen an NFL QB throw in the last decade.

It's very early, and calling Ponder a bust now would be foolish. He could wind up thriving in the dink and dunk west coast system we've seen the last two weeks, because his arm strength isn't as important when he only has to throw the ball 3 yards to Percy Harvin. However, the inability to score quickly or stretch defenses could become an issue, especially since without a deep threat teams will be able to keep 8 or even 9 guys in the box in certain situations to shut down Adrian Peterson.

After two preseason games, though, I'm glad the Vikings went out and acquired Donovan McNabb, because at this point, Christian Ponder isn't even better than second-year athlete/quarterback/receiver Joe Webb. I'd love to be wrong, but consider me on the record as expecting Ponder to eventually be a bust at this level.

This post originally appeared on The Blog That Boredom Built.


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